Halfway down the 5800 block of Greene St., a three-foot-tall speaker blasting Rihanna’s “We Found Love” drowns out the sound of traffic.
Inside a small storefront, shopper Jamal Knock asks for the latest rap record by Wale. Meanwhile, his mother is looking for Teddy Pendergrass, L.T.D., Freddie Jackson and Jeffrey Osborne — not separate albums, but songs by all four artists downloaded and burned onto one compact disc.
Welcome to the Music Studio, a one-of-a-kind music store in Germantown where people not only buy commercial CDs, but also have their favorite songs downloaded onto personalized discs.
In a neighborhood where an estimated two in three residents do not have a computer at home, the store serves an important niche market.
“[The customers] just love it,” said the shop’s proprietor, Sean Jarvis, who goes by the name DJ Sean. “They say, ‘I can come and put a list together, and get the songs I want.’ It’s good for them, because they don’t all have computers to download [the songs] for themselves.”
More than just sales
Besides selling music, the Music Studio also helps people record it.
At night, Jarvis often hauls in microphones and other equipment and sets up a vocal booth. That allows budding musicians from Germantown and other areas of the city to record their own takes on everything from gospel to hip hop to R&B songs.
“Philadelphia has so many artists who want to record … just so much talent,” says Jarvis, a former city resident who moved to Palmyra, N.J. “They want to record, they want to be heard. If it wasn’t for all the enthusiastic response, I might not have [the recording option] in the store.”
Located at 5810 Greene St., the Music Studio displays the current top 10 rap albums, which sell at normal CD price.
The store sells mixtapes of local artists for just $5. Rappers from the area, such as Gillie da Kid, Quilly Millz and Yazz, use Jarvis’ store as an outlet to promote their names and music, giving him posters and fliers in addition to the mixtapes.
“You can get five CDs here for the price it costs for one somewhere else,” says Jessica Wright, who volunteers as a shop clerk for Jarvis during the week.
She points to a rack holding Jarvis’ latest “DJ Sean Rap” and “DJ Sean R&B” mixed CDs that he updates every two weeks and sells to customers and local businesses.
A woman in her late 20s opens the door in a rush and steps onto the black-and-white checkered floor, asking Jarvis if he knows of the rock band Phoenix’s song “Lasso.”
Jarvis doesn’t, but he searches iTunes and tells her to come back tomorrow. Before she leaves, he hands her a “Playlist” form so she can list “Lasso” and any other song she wants on her CD, as well as her contact information.
Between their meeting and the next day, Jarvis will buy “Lasso” on iTunes, download it, burn it to a CD and sell it to her for $2.
A somewhat-accidental business
Jarvis initially had no intention of turning his store into a recording studio at night.
He says he named the store after a local hair salon called Hair Studio, not meaning to suggest he was into the recording business, but customers thought otherwise.
“The first week I was open, 20 people a day would walk in after seeing the sign out front and ask to record, so I told them to come back by the end of the week, when I’d be set up to record,” he explained.
Jarvis, who grew up in Philadelphia, got into music when he was 15 and taught himself to play keyboard while listening to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” radio countdown.
Listening to the show sparked his interest in becoming a DJ. At 16, he began spinning records at friends’ house parties, later adding local block parties and weddings to his repertoire.
Soon, people who threw the parties started asking for the mixes Jarvis was spinning. That prompted Jarvis to begin promoting his brand by selling his mixed compilations out of the back of his car in Center City and Germantown.
Although Jarvis says that DJing and promoting his mixtapes citywide was good business, the club scene and the constant travel began to grind on him.
Today, he’s content to spin records at Charley B’s, a club on Stenton Avenue in Germantown, and to pass on his love of music through the “DJ Sean” mixtapes that he showcases in his store.
“I love watching people enjoy themselves,” he says.
Ken Horner and Daniel Brightcliffe are La Salle University students who write for GermantownBeat, a local student-produced news site. NewsWorks features articles from GermantownBeat on its Northwest Philadelphia community sites and contributes multimedia journalism training to the program.